Many Spoilers ahead
The kids and I went with a bunch of their friends to watch Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. My younger one and his friend embarrassed us completely by talking loudly, eating their popcorn super messily, asking for water every five minutes and finally rushing to the washroom before intermission. But when they fell asleep, I was able to focus on what was on the screen.
Fantastic Beasts… is at one level a fun romp for the kids. Slapstick humour involving thieving animals, magic suitcases and flames coming of of anuses can never fail to amuse. But there was a lot of darkness that my older one’s rather more sensitive radar picked up. He was much less bothered by the dark wind and flying bricks than he was by the children of Second Salem. Which was a little surprising considering there was no overt violence there. We were told that the children faced abuse but we never saw it. And yet, it bothered him very much.
The later Harry Potter books tried to do more than tell a mystery/adventure story to children. They had much in them about how easy it is for ordinary people, even very smart people, to get carried away by feelings of racial superiority and general extreme right-wingishness to the point where they cross the line into something far worse. There was a lot of Nazi referencing.
There is no doubt that these are thoughts that need to be reiterated in our world today. But while this new movie kept those ideas in mind, it seemed to be focusing more, once again, on children. Beyond the general themes of inclusiveness, this movie seemed to be about accepting children as they are.
The conflict in the movie comes from a child who is not understood or accepted. Who has to constantly crush his true self. Having no one to understand and too many to condemn, he turns his anger outwards bringing a city to its knees. I wondered very much if Rowling had school shootings on her mind here.
I might be over thinking this. After all, these movies are building up to have Grindelwald as the villain. All this might simply have been working up to the Dumbledore story – his sister Ariana was an Obscurus who accidentally killed two muggle boys and later her mother. But Ariana was also a talented, different child who was growing up around people who didn’t quite get her.
There was another child in this movie who was talented and different too, but the contrast between Newt Scamander and Credence Barebones could not be more stark! Newt mentions that people find him annoying. He also says that he likes Jacob Kowalski and that he seemed like someone who was often liked. There was something in how he said that. An absence of wistfulness. And only mild admiration.
So the thing that struck me the most about this film is that besides being a prequel setup and a story about extending tolerance and acceptance to all species, this is also a story of two similar children who ended up with very different outcomes. Where one child is forced to conform becoming increasingly isolated and angry and eventually making a number of innocent people the target of his anger, the other finding love and acceptance, becomes a person of infinite compassion. Especially towards the weak and vulnerable.
There is a lesson in here if I can say it without shouting it loud. Raising a child is such a tricky and such an important thing to do. So easy to do wrong, so rewarding if done right. And it doesn’t come with a manual or best practices – you have to learn by doing and by making mistakes, owning up and correcting them all the time. My son may have been scared and worried by it, but I liked this movie!